+Combat and leveling systems are sound and quite enjoyable
+The games strong narrative allows for great character development
+Difficulty scaling is rather well implemented allowing players to explore freely
-Can feel like a bit of a slog after 15-20 hours, but does redeem itself after a short bit
-Guild recruiting feels underutilized and without little cause and effect to the overall game.
It’s not often that I find myself in this odd position, my head on a pile of pillows, arms stretched before me holding a New Nintendo 3DS (check out our review here) and my charger cable hooked up to it. One of my few reasons behind it is rather odd in some ways, one’s because I’ve been sucked into Alliance Alive, but also, I still am struggling with the same boss I’ve been stuck on for nearly an hour.
But that’s where a lot of things seem to be going on for ATLUS’ Alliance Alive, a foray into everything classic JRPG from its combat systems, chibi-looking characters, and the games rather catchy name. As my mother would say, ATLUS has crossed all their T’s and dotted their I’s before putting their ducks in a row. However, some may find that Cattle Call’s tweaked game mechanics just simply don’t work as much as their previous title The Legend of Legacy, which on its own is a rather fun game, one with a great narrative and gameplay elements.
Just like it, however, my complaints in regards to Alliance Alive isn’t its JRPG mechanics or its story-telling elements. It’s figuring out just where the Hell I need to go that has been causing me some grief as I explore this well-crafted world I’ve been tossed into rather ceremoniously in a 90’s PlayStation JRPG fashion. Just like the tradition’s Alliance Alive follows, players will quickly learn that the world they are about to explore has been devastated by a war between Human’s and Daemon’s, one where the world has been split into different realms.
In the Rain Realm, the inhabitants have never seen a beautiful blue sky, one lit perfectly by the sun to bring light to the world. In this world, we have our introductory character’s Azura and her friend Galil who will travel together in order to see a sunlit sky. In good ol’ JRPG fashion, Alliance Alive wastes no time throwing players out to the wolves and sends them out adventuring through the games beginning mission, one where you switch off between groups of characters.
But characters even come with classes ranging from Daemon’s to Signimancers (mages) to your good ol’ fashioned archers that will pick enemies off from a distance. Eventually, the cast of characters to meet up, reuniting through their various worlds as players push through its story, as stated, in true JRPG fashion. Sadly, the opening moments may come off as senseless to players giving it a chance. After all, Alliance Alive carries traditional JRPG fashions with it. The first hour or two is a bit slow, linear if you will, but opens up to encourage more people to spend time getting to understand what is going on.With the game’s heavy focus on having a stronger narrative than The Legend of Legacy, there’s quite a bit to appreciate. Cutscenes are quite common, but so are moments of lengthy dialogue where players will be able to read through the dialogue leading up to the games most important events and ultimately the quest that players will embark upon between each major plot point. Characters themselves are much more well defined, more concrete personalities, interactions, and character development throughout the game.
While there isn’t a voiceover track, the team at Cattle Call has ensured that players will stay drawn into the games overall story. Sadly, all of the major plot moments play out as one would expect – predictable. They are easily seen before they happen. Villians and their motivations are simple and easily scouted out by those paying minimal attention to the game. That’s not to say that these elements are bad or poorly executed, but for fans of classic JRPGs, these are quite common mechanics and remain relevant to this very day.
For fans of RPG franchises such as SaGa or Final Fantasy Legends, then this games traditional RPG roots might seem a bit more familiar. But there are several reasons why and not everyone might be aware of these. First off, you have a characters leveling system, one that doesn’t revolve around a characters experience earned, but rather on their stats and perks that players will unlock through progressing through the game. As you progress through combat scenarios, you’ll find your character occasionally gaining minor improvements to both their HP and SP. While these are “levels,” the game focuses on a very different approach.Combat skills are more important for the players to earn versus HP and SP boosts. Combat skills are where much of the games progression system remains and is tied to weapon types, not the characters themselves. Any and every character can use a staff and can learn and unlock the same abilities as a character who starts out using one. They can even unlock the same abilities throughout the game by progressing through the game. Additionally, these combat abilities can level up by being used. That means the more you use them, the stronger they are and the more potent their buffs, total amounts healed, or damage blocked is increased.
But the most important element to the games combat systems is its stances and formations. If you’ve ever played titles like Lost Odyssey or Romancing SaGa, these mechanics are quite clear and are ones that carry over from traditional JRPGs, as I’ve stated consistently. Characters can be placed in one of three stances including Attack, Support, or Guard stance. Each of these brings in their own uses, allowing for characters to benefit more strongly from the role they play. Additionally, there’s also one of three rows that come along with these stances.
In the first row, it’s not uncommon to put your biggest hitters. Here you can allow your blockers and melee heavy hitters in their spot while your support and casters can be placed on the other two rows. These are also the rows where you want to put your long range hitters such as archers and casters. Depending on where a character is placed is also an indicator of how often they will be attacked and how easily they can be targeted by specific enemies. This doesn’t mean they won’t be targeted, but it does ensure that select members of your group won’t be consistently targeted throughout your time with the game.Throughout the game, this does become rather important once your team stacks up to five characters in a group, which is a two-member increase from The Legend of Legacy. Another valuable feature is the ability to the game, which seems quite a bit throughout the course of the game. While the game is slightly scaled down in difficulty compared to the team’s previous title, the game still comes with its own challenges, throwing players off to the side in some occasions if they wander too far off the beaten path. But overall, Alliance Alive is considerably easier, which is a complaint I’ve had with The Legend of Legacy.
In the first 6-8 hours of gameplay, players might find their time with the title rather drawn back brainless even when it comes to a challenge. But remember, that’s just the opening hours, and things do begin to speed up rather quickly. During this time, you will jump between three separate parties, each with their own circumstances, which all lead to all nine main characters grouping up rather quickly. Even at that point of the game, it’s not one you’re going to just breeze through by any means, and you will need to take your time doing so by any means necessary.
Luckily, your patience does pay off. The game does get better with time and the whole map does eventually open up for players to explore to its fullest. You’ll even have a chance to run into some of the games toughest creatures that wander the open world. Some are downright brutal while some are there to help you get a feel for how your group should be situated. But that doesn’t mean you should go looking for them. Sometimes, just sometimes, it helps to go where you need to go and in the order you are meant to, which does make the game more than enjoyable throughout the time you’ll spend with it.Sadly, the most challenging part(s) of the game won’t even appear till midway through the game, one where you’re forced to see your cast split into three separate parties, each taking on their own waves of enemies. At this point, you may have already built your team how you preferred, lining up characters so that they benefit your play style. You may have built Galil to be a spear-wielding damage dealer while Azura is a dedicated caster with a shield, a Paladin if you will, and you may have even built Ignance to be a powerful archer.
Even though these are only three characters, they’re your three steady go-to members, they’re the ones you call on for when things get tough, but because the game does rip your team in half at one point, you may have to become acquainted with using slightly weaker members, beating down enemies to the best of your ability. Toss in the fact the boss that pops up right after exists and is one of the hardest in the game, may make you cringe as you struggle to push through it and could even have you walk away a few times like I had. However, what do you expect from a JRPG?
But after this point, the game does smooth out once again, becoming a steady exploration of the world about you, bringing you to better understand formations, stance systems, and character builds for your party. Sadly, world bosses are far and few between, mostly being water-based entities that will draw you in, hitting you as hard as they can, sometimes even one shotting party members till you are sent back to the last immediate save point made.You’ll even have a chance to explore two essential Guilds. The guilds come in one of two forms, items or spells, each offering you different items to purchase, some coming with semi-random effects that can be triggered by usage. There are five guilds, however, and each does have their own towers placed across the map for players to visit. In these guild towers, you can sleep, purchase items, and rest your party so that they can be completely restored. Each does have their own effects while in combat. Some will debuff enemies while will occasionally assist by stunning an enemy. The more towers you are near, the more likely they are to assist you during battle.
Outside of combat, Guilds do play a role in minor ways. After meeting the games progression requirements, you can actually begin to recruit members for the guilds. Speaking to various NPCs scattered throughout the game make this possible, each having a chance to offer specific types of new bonuses depending on what guild they go to. This will improve the guilds affects in combat. Additionally, you can also expand the range of influence for a guild by placing towers for each of the guilds, allowing for higher chances for you to remain in the range of a guilds effects so that they can activate while in combat.
The Alliance Alive – Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Cattle Call
Release Date: March 27, 2017
While the recruiting system is fun, it can become a tedious portion of the game and could deter some players from experiencing this feature to its fullest. While it’s quite a simple system, it’s a side-story one and one that doesn’t seem to influence the game by much at all.
With all this being said, Alliance Alive does make improvements from its predecessor and does so admirably well. While the game does get bogged down by areas of repetitiveness from recruiting guild members to its combat systems, it’s a game that is rather enjoyable and one that sits rather well right beside some of the JRPG genres most renowned titles.
Our review is based on a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPGs, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.